How to Sell a Deceased Relative's Car

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Settling a dead relative's estate is complex, and includes selling property, paying bills and distributing the remainder to the heirs. The procedure for selling a car in this process varies depending on a number of circumstances, such as the ownership of the car and if the person owed money on the vehicle.

Executor Only

In most cases, only the executor of the estate can sell a deceased person's property, including a car. In some cases, the deceased relative may bequeath the car to a designated person, and it is up to the executor to carry out that transfer.

Joint Ownership

A jointly owned vehicle, with two people's name on the title, transfers automatically to the surviving owner. He has the right to sell the vehicle immediately if he desires, often providing only a death certificate to prove that the other owner's signature is not necessary. Your state may have additional forms to file in order to retitle and reregister the vehicle.

With or Without Probate

Most wills must be probated, even if the deceased had a valid will. If the estate is small, with no liabilities, you may not need to go through probate, but this process varies by state. If probate is not necessary, you will need to prove this by showing documentation from the court that allows you to carry out the sale. You may also have to wait a specified amount of time before you can sell the car.


  • Estate law is complex. If you do not believe you need to legally probate a relative's estate, verify this with the probate court or with a trusted attorney.

Upside-Down Vehicle with a Lien

The death of the owner of the vehicle eliminates that person's responsibility to pay off any car loan, but the assets of the estate must pay any liabilities that remain before distributing the estate to the heirs. If the car is worth less than what the relative owed on the vehicle, how many other assets the estate has will show how to proceed. If the relative died with very little, none or a negative net worth, contact the bank with the loan on the vehicle, and send it a copy of the death certificate. The bank may repossess the vehicle, and eliminate any deficiency loan balance remaining after the sale. The heirs to the estate may need to file the appropriate disclaimer paperwork, and the executor may need to show proof to the bank that the relative did not have an estate of sufficient value to pay off the balance.

If the relative had credit life insurance on the loan, send the lender or insurance company a copy of the death certificate. The insurance will pay off the loan. which means the vehicle can be sold.

Vehicle with a Lien

If the vehicle is worth more than what the relative owed on it, the equity in the vehicle becomes part of the estate. If the relative had cash or bank account balances high enough to pay off the loan, the executor may pay off the loan with the relative's funds, and get clear title from the bank. If not, the executor will need to find a buyer for the car, collect the funds for the sale, and send those funds to the bank so that the buyer can get the title.


  • If the lien is will a bank that has a local branch, try to involve the branch manager in the sale. He may have the title available at the branch, so the seller can go in with the buyer, exchange the money, pay off the lien and receive the title all at once.

Vehicle Owned Without a Lien

If the relative owned the vehicle free and clear, the executor can sell the vehicle by transferring the title after receiving the proceeds of the sale. The purchaser will then apply for a new title with his registration.

Additional Documents

The letter of Appointment of Executor must accompany any signed bill of sale or title transfer documents. This shows why the person signing the document is not the same as the person named on the title to the vehicle. This is a document executed by the probate court, showing that the executor has the authority to sign the documents and carry out the sale.


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